What Should I Do When My Integrity Is Questioned?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2020 22 Sep
I served as the treasurer of our church for almost 20 years. Not long ago, some money turned up missing, and I was blamed. The humiliation and vilification were incredible. Everyone thought I was guilty and treated me that way.
The church arranged for an audit, and I was found innocent. The real thief was on the counting committee and went to jail for fraud. That’s the first, and hopefully the last time my integrity will be called into question. So, what do you do when your integrity is questioned?
It seemed so trivial. Paul told the Corinthian Christians that he would return to Corinth for a second visit. However, Paul's concern to get to Jerusalem was so irresistible that he bypassed Corinth.
Some began to question Paul’s integrity: "After all, if he cannot be trusted to keep his appointments, how can we ever trust his ministry?"
Integrity Is Wholeness
All the pieces are on display. Nothing is missing or broken.
Let’s consider how Paul handled this situation when his integrity was on the line with the Corinthian Christians. He relied upon the characteristics of holiness, sincerity, truthfulness, and love to validate his integrity. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:12-24:
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace... wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia...and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ...Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
By the way, the time to build up integrity is before we need to use it.
Of course, there are more characteristics of integrity than the ones Paul mentioned in this defense. However, these four are more than enough to guarantee our own integrity:
1. Holiness: Choosing Righteousness
Holiness need not be some esoteric mystical endeavor. It is as practical as righteous living. Romans 6:19 declares, “So, now offer your bodies in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”
My dad was favored with promotion after promotion as he worked for 40 years, moving up the corporate ladder of a major airline to the position of vice president. He was in charge of budgets, balance sheets, income, expenditures, and economic forecasting.
Then, suddenly, without warning, they took away his job, his position, and his pride by replacing him with an accountant from South America who could hardly speak English. Dad was given a small office in the back of the building, where he worked with some outdated computers.
The board promised to pay him half of his present salary until he reached retirement age. They threw in a handful of free airplane tickets. Dad was devastated, but he left the airline behind and forged ahead, starting his own successful accounting business.
Several years later, two gentlemen from the FBI invited themselves into our house, and shortly thereafter, it all made sense. Apparently, the leaders of the airline were trading valuable government-controlled air routes in exchange for large contributions to President Richard Nixon’s illegal campaign slush funds. The perpetrators knew that my dad must be isolated if the plan were to work.
Dad was a man of integrity.
Now read Romans 6:19 again. My dad’s decision to live in righteousness led to holiness, marking his life with integrity.
2. Sincerity: Living without Hidden Motives
What you see is what you get! People of integrity follow through with every promise they make. Their word is dependable. Proverbs 26:8 reads, “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”
In Roman times, vases often cracked when they were processed and hardened by fire. Then the imperfection on a cracked vase was filled with wax to hide the infirmity. Intact vases were stamped with the Latin words sine cera which meant “without wax.” From this practice, we get our word “sincerity.”
People of integrity have few—if any—cracks in their character. They are sincere.
Julie and I were buying groceries one Sunday after my sermon, when the cashier handed me my change. I counted the cash to discover that she’d given me five dollars too much.
I said, “I think that you’ve made a mistake. You have given me five extra dollars.”
She said, “I know. I was in church this morning, and I was just testing you.”
This has great relevance for the political leaders of our country. We have a society that uses words to lead, deceive, confuse, and cover.
A recent NBC News poll tested voters' feelings about congressional trustworthiness: 24% of Americans said that Congress is mostly honest. But the news media was worse. Just 19% said the media is very or mostly honest. Integrity long ago ceased to define our leaders.
3. Truthfulness: Speaking and Acting Honestly
Men and women of integrity tell the truth and live accordingly. They do not lie or perpetrate false truths. Their very lives are saturated with truth. They’ve learned the lesson that no matter what is going on, it is always best to tell the truth. Proverbs 12:19 teaches, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”
A man and a woman in Long Beach, CA went to Kentucky Fried Chicken to buy chicken for a picnic. The owner was preparing to take the proceeds for the day’s sales to the bank for deposit. He camouflaged the money by putting it in an empty KFC box.
Inadvertently, the cashier gave the customer the money-filled box instead of the chicken-filled box.
When the couple got to the park and opened the box, they found all of the money. The man realized that there was a mistake. They got into the car and drove back to the KFC and returned the money to the frantic manager.
The manager was so pleased. He said, “You stick around. I want to call the newspaper and have them put in your picture.”
“No. No. Don’t do that,” the man pleaded.
“Because I am married, and this woman is not my wife.”
If the truth were known, most of us struggle with telling the truth at some time or other.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Just tell the truth; say what you mean and mean what you say, and integrity soars!
4. Love: Caring for Others
With all the problems that Paul experienced with the church at Corinth, it’s no wonder that he didn’t just walk away. From our perspective, the Corinthian church was more trouble than it was worth! There were many people in the Mediterranean world who would have accepted, appreciated, and loved what Paul was doing. But he loved them, as Christ loves the church.
The essence of integrity is getting involved in the lives of others. People of integrity have love built into their nature. In John 15:12, Jesus commands, “Love each other as I have loved you.”
Expressing true love is not always easy.
I love this poem by Robert Brault:
I was hungry
and you hurried into McDonald’s
and acted like you didn’t see me at the door
I was imprisoned
And you crept off quietly
To your chapel in the cellar
To pray for my release.
I was naked
And in your mind you said
Surely he’ll find the local Goodwill store
I was sick
And you knelt and thanked God
For your health.
I was homeless
And you preached to me
Of the spiritual shelter
Of the love of God.
I was lonely
And you left me alone
To pray for me to find a friend.
You seem so holy;
So close to God.
But I’m still very hungry
So where have your prayers gone?
What have they done?
What does it profit a man to page through his
Book of prayers when the rest of the world
Is crying for help?
Will you show integrity by putting others first? Even when it’s not convenient?
5. Invest Time and Consistency to Build Up Integrity with People
A consistent life lived over time—which includes holiness, sincerity, truthfulness, and love— validates a life of integrity. These characteristics are our best defense when our integrity is called into question. Proverbs 10:9 declares, “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”
Let me illustrate this last point with a story from Leith Anderson in Leadership Journal several years ago. It was written for pastors, but it really applies to everyone:
When a new pastor is called to pastor a church, the pulpit committee gives him 100 chips. If he preaches a good sermon, he gets another chip. If he preaches a bad or boring sermon, it costs him two chips.
If he spends several hours at the hospital with a sick church member, he gets 10 chips. If the visit occurred after midnight, he gets 15 chips. And if the patient was sick unto death and recovered shortly after his visit and prayer, he gets 25 chips.
A pastor was called to a new church beginning in January, but his first sermon was not scheduled until the first Sunday in February. The church anxiously waited.
Before he preached, a church down the street needed a pulpit. The pastor wanted to begin his ministry fresh and new. So, a week before he was to preach, he gave away the pulpit that had been in his new church for over 70 years. After all, he didn’t want anything to stand between him and his people.
Giving away the pulpit cost him 1,500 chips. It would take 30 years of great sermons just to get back to even. His ministry was over before he even started, and he was gone in three months.
On the other hand, there was a pastor who forgot a funeral. He wasn’t derelict or lazy; he was just was out counseling at a luncheon meeting and lost track of time.
The funeral director called his secretary, and she called all the usual places where he dined, but he had decided to try a new place. Finally, the funeral home called a pastor down the street to fill in. He didn’t know the family, but he hurried down and performed the funeral.
When the pastor arrived back at church and realized what had happened, he was mortified. He raced to the deceased’s home to apologize to the family members.
One of the family members said, “Pastor, we will never forgive nor forget what you did to us today.” The pastor figured that missing that funeral cost him several hundred chips.
But he survived. He had been at that church for 28 years. He had piles and piles of chips.
In my mind, integrity is one of the most precious parts of who we are in Christ. When 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here!” Paul means that we have been made new from the very inside out. We are clean; we have a sound moral character thanks to the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.
But we still face a thousand choices every day...will we act with integrity, living transparently according to the will of God? Or will we do what’s best for us, hiding what we think or do behind a good-looking façade?
Keep pursuing holiness, sincerity, truthfulness, and love.
Well, Eric, I hope you’ll find my answer helpful in building a life of integrity.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Kenishirotie
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.